Grammy Nomination For
Bob Mintzer All L.A. Band
Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
The extraordinary saxophonist/composer Bob Mintzer and master drummer Peter Erskine go back nearly 50 years since their high school days in a big band at the renowned Interlochen Arts Academy. Afterwards, when Bob was in Buddy Rich’s big band and Peter worked with Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson, their paths crossed often. But in the 1980s in New York City, their big band collaborating took full root, resulting in numerous projects over the years. Now both of them are in Los Angeles and the outstanding new album Bob Mintzer – All L.A. Band on Fuzzy Music is the latest gem to blossom from this fruitful relationship.
Joined by some of the finest musicians on the L.A. scene for ten marvelous tracks, they have added another component that is both ambitious and ingenious to the mix. Through Fuzzy Music Mobile, they have developed a new app that brings the stimulating big band experience directly to students and musicians, allowing them to play along, record and mix their own versions of this inspired music. Where most play-along products allow the user to music-minus two or three tracks, this new app allows the user to minus (or solo) virtually any of the instruments involved in the recording. Each part can be printed directly from the app, and resultant play-along recordings can be mailed to teachers, colleagues and friends.
But the primary treasure is in the music itself, whether participating through the app or simply enjoying the remarkable music contained in this album. Bob and Peter are joined by 15 splendid musicians – a trumpet section of Wayne Bergeron, James Blackwell, John Thomas, Chad Willis and Michael Stever; Bob McChesney, Erik Hughes, Julianne Gralle and Craig Gosnell on trombones; Bob Sheppard on alto and Adam Schroeder on baritone join Bob in the reed section; pianist (and Bob’s fellow Yellowjackets colleague) Russ Ferrante; guitarist Larry Koonse; Edwin Livingston on bass and Aaron Serfaty on percussion. In addition to playing drums, Peter also supervised the project and produced the recording.
The collaborative relationship between Mintzer and Erskine is the central nervous system upon which this entire journey is constructed. Bob’s exceptional tenor is the primary story teller in the plot and theme provided by his brilliant compositions and arrangements. His writing is highly imaginative and wonderfully textured with layer upon layer of sonic brushstrokes painted on the canvas. Call and response, thrust and parry, multi-leveled conversation and bold counterpoint create harmonic and rhythmic structure and tension that challenge in contemporary fashion while remaining thoroughly musical in the finest traditions of the big band legacy from Basie and Ellington to Charles Mingus and George Russell.
Bob’s experience with Buddy Rich clearly instilled a sense of the drums providing the big band’s engine. Peter’s impeccable rhythmic sense and consummate artistry provide the mortar that fortifies the structure, while also stirring the kettle to properly cook all the ingredients in the brew – whether driving powerfully, enhancing subtly, rocking or stomping as demanded by the music.
While there is solo space for a number of the musicians, Bob’s virtuosic tenor is the key ingredient – muscular, passionate, adventurous, lyrical and urgent – dancing and interweaving in perfect synch within the rich textures of the horn parts that are constantly in motion creating a vibrant and exhilarating atmosphere for every tale told on this album.
Afro-Cuban influences have been a major part of orchestral jazz since the 1940s when Machito and Mario Bauza poured the foundation and Dizzy Gillespie and George Russell built upon it. There are three pieces rooted in that style here, crossing it with sheer swing in a manner that evokes the spirit of another West Coast legend, Gerald Wilson. The album’s opener El Caborojeño features percussive, layered horn lines in rich syncopation. Spirited horn riffs cushion a lyrical Cuban/hard-bop trumpet solo by Stever and punchy, deeply grooved simmer-to-boil blowing from Mintzer. Ellis Island is a 6/8 excursion built on vividly intricate interplay between brass and reeds, with a fluid baritone solo by Schroeder caressed by swirling horns and buoyed by darkly luminous low brass. A blending with R&B and a touch of calypso is at play on Latin Dance and features Bob’s tenor in a hollerin’ conversation with trombones, McChesney’s trombone solo driven by counterpointing horns and flared with a trumpet fanfare, and a vigorous drum solo rooted by deliciously suspended horn lines.
A different Caribbean island adds a spice in the reggae-tinged Original People with a gentle groove that blends easy swing with the inside-out reggae rhythmic approach, providing a relaxed setting for smoothly lyrical tenor and trumpet solos. At the other end of the thermometer, Runferyerlife is a rip-roaring be-boppish romp with Bob’s tenor roaring through, around in, out and under the horn lines into a scorching solo. McChesney’s blistering trombone solo follows and a robust drum solo pitted against the horns closes it out.
Mintzer has been a member of The Yellowjackets for over 20 years, so it makes sense that soulful R&B would be the flavor for three items neatly blended with the swing feel. New Rochelle (originally written for that group) opens with baroque-ish brass before easing into its R&B groove, providing the setting for Bob’s soulful sojourn in the territory so often staked by Hank Mobley and Stanley Turrentine. Slo Funk written by Bob for the Buddy Rich band swings mightily over a half-time funk bottom with Bob Sheppard taking a barking alto solo so funkily rooted in Maceo Parker territory that one might expect to hear Fred Wesley chime in beside him. That marriage of pure swing and R&B is most appropriate on Home Basie, which could be a portrayal of the Count meeting the pre-funk big band James Brown and the Famous Flames. Punctuated by syncopated horns, Mintzer’s solo pays homage to King Curtis and Junior Walker.
A more traditional Basie influence is at hand for two pieces. Havin’ Some Fun was composed in the classic Count Basie style – from that smoothly dulcet Neal Hefti Li’l Darlin’ angle of perspective. Bob’s tenor does a captivating dance with the horns, and Schroeder offers a lyrically virile baritone solo. The album’s extended closing track Tribute was conceived to honor the many immortals who came out of the Basie band – most specifically, the legendary Thad Jones, who made his own mark on the big band legacy holding his own court along with Mel Lewis in their co-led orchestra at NYC’s landmark Village Vanguard from the mid-sixties through the seventies. An excursion in blue swing, launched by Ferrante with that profound Basie blues simplicity, it features a deeply soulful Mintzer and Stever’s very Thad-ish homage – providing a perfect ending to this truly wonderful album. Special note must be made regarding the peerless lead trumpet playing throughout by the legendary Wayne Bergeron.
To sum it all up in Bob’s words: “It was a total joy to record this music with my long time colleague Peter Erskine, and my new family of musicians in Los Angeles. Special thanks to Talley Sherwood for his expert engineering.”
For more information about this album and its related app, visit www.petererskine.com and www.bobmintzer.com
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